Once fall hits, something happens to cooks. Taste buds steer toward deep, hearty flavors and comfort foods, and for so many of us, that means that soup’s on.
One of my favorites is French onion soup. This time of year, it’s a constant on many restaurant menus. It’s loved for its beefy broth, sweet onions and layer of melted cheese. Add in some toasted bread, and it satisfies as a meal.
The onions, of course, are paramount, and I like a good amount of onions in the soup. In every spoonful, you should encounter onion, broth, cheese and bite of bread. That’s what brings French onion soup together.
What kinds of onions do you use?
The most common type is the yellow onion. But you can also use white onions, sweet onions and Spanish onions. If it’s a deep flavor you’re after, try red onions. Slice them in ¼-inch-thick slices. I like to cut them into 1/4-inch half circles so they are discernible. If the onions are sliced too thin, you run the risk of having them cook too fast and burn or cook down next to nothing.
How do you cook the onions?
Start out heating some oil in a pot or Dutch oven. Make sure the onions have some space. Most recipes call for cooking down or caramelizing the onions so they release their natural sugars. When the sugars are released, the onions change color. How dark you want them to be is up to you. A honey color to a deep amber is generally safe. Keep in mind that the darker the color, the deeper the flavor. Just be certain to keep an eye on the onions so they don’t burn. You’re aiming for a sweet taste, not a burned one. Also, don’t stir the onions a lot, or they won’t caramelize properly.
What about the cheese?
Ah, the cheese. Another best part of French onion soup. The classic route calls for Gruyère (groo-YEHR), a cow’s milk cheese that has some nutty nuances. You can use several varieties, but choose wisely. French onion soup demands a good melting cheese. Options include muenster, fontina, Havarti and provolone.
How about the broth?
Most onion soups call for a beef broth or stock. You need to keep in mind that many store-bought broths or stocks are high in sodium. Many cheeses also have plenty of sodium. So you need to balance the two so the soup isn’t overly salty. It’s best to choose reduced-sodium varieties.
One of my favorite soup bases is reduced-sodium Better Than Bouillon. It’s sold in a 3 1/2-ounce jar, and you use 1 teaspoon to 8 ounces of boiling water.
The original version of today’s recipe (adapted from Martha Stewart Halloween magazine, October 2011) calls for Morbier (MOR-byay), a creamy and mild cow’s milk cheese from France. Look for Morbier cheese at specialty shops like Holiday Market in Royal Oak, Mich.
Onion Soup with Muenster Cheese
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds yellow onions, peeled, thinly sliced into half circles
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup sherry
8 cups fat-free, low-sodium beef or vegetable broth
4 sprigs thyme
1/4 cup port wine, optional
1/2 French baguette, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 clove garlic, cut in half
6 slices (about 1 ounce each) Muenster or Morbier cheese
In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until dark golden and caramelized, 30-40 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the sherry and bring to a boil over medium-high heat; continue boiling until the sherry is reduced by half.
Add the broth and thyme. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until onions are very soft, about 30 minutes. Stir in port, if using.
Meanwhile, heat broiler with rack in middle. Place the bread slices on a baking sheet and broil until lightly toasted. Remove from the broiler and rub the cut side of the garlic on the slices.
When the soup is done, turn the broiler back on and ladle the soup into 6-ounce ramekins. Top each with a toasted baguette slice or two. Drape cheese on top of bread so it hangs over the edge of the ramekin slightly. Place ramekins on a rimmed baking sheet and broil until cheese is browned in spots, about 2 minutes. Remove from the broiler and serve immediately.
Adapted from Martha Stewart Halloween, October 2011 issue. Tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.
243 calories (44 percent from fat), 11 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 20 g carbohydrates, 11 g protein, 789 mg sodium, 20 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber.
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